Zestfull’s series “Flavors of Culture” explores the powerful connection between food and culture with food allergies. To kick off our series, Sharon Wong shares her favorite traditional nut-free Jai recipe for Lunar New Year.
Who is Sharon?
Sharon is a San Francisco Bay Area food allergy mom who blogs at Nut Free Wok where she creates nut-free Asian recipes. She is also a cookbook author of the new Chinese Instant Pot Cookbook which celebrates sixty quick and easy classic, allergy-friendly recipes that you can make at home.
Sharon’s two sons live with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Her one son is mostly desensitized to peanuts, tree nuts and egg but has some fruit allergies. Sharon has a latex allergy.
Sharon’s Jai recipe and food traditions
What do food traditions mean to you?
Chinese people gather to celebrate holidays such as Lunar New Year and the Autumn Moon. Specific foods have symbolic intentions which are served at these celebrations.
I don’t necessarily believe that if I eat a specific dish that xyz would happen as a result, but I respect the beliefs and culture enough to make certain foods and tell the stories behind them without any expectations.
How has your extended family adapted their food traditions to accommodate your food allergies?
We avoided 30+ allergens during the kids’ early years so we hosted most gatherings and holidays for family and friends. I did the majority of cooking but some people would bring drinks, or a fruit salad that they would cut up at my house so that they could safely contribute to our meals.
I always asked our children for their input on what they would like to bring to an event. Based on their responses, I would make a favorite entree and dessert so that they didn’t feel deprived if there was something they couldn’t eat which contained their allergen or traces of it.
How have you created new food traditions for your family?
Celebrating Lunar New Year with food has probably been the most difficult for me because of recipes that are passed down and best learned when cooking side by side together.
My favorite way to gain knowledge about Chinese food is to talk to my mom or relatives. That said, if I ask my mom or auntie, they will tell me to use a little bit of this or that without any specific amounts or guidance on the recipe.
So, I experiment in the kitchen, adapting recipes and testing them out on my family. I try to share one traditional Lunar New Year recipe per year on my blog which has become my new food tradition.
What is your best advice for someone navigating family gatherings with food allergies?
- Share your needs in simple terms and clarify.
- Let go of expectations.
- Embrace situations when people respond with empathy.
- Release hurt feelings when people respond in ignorance and do what’s best to keep your family safe.
Sharon’s Nut-free Chinese Jai Recipe
Although there are several auspicious dishes such as potstickers, lettuce cups and steamed fish that are eaten for Lunar New Year, these are also consumed year round. However, this Chinese Jai recipe is a must-have traditional New Year dish.
Sharon says that she felt stuck on tradition. If she left out her family’s allergens, would it still be a traditional Lunar New Year recipe? But then she thought about how difficult it must be for some people who don’t live near an Asian market and do not have access to these ingredients.
Traditionally, Jai is made with peanuts, chestnuts and ginko nuts, topped with a garnish of toasted sesame seeds. Sharon’s version is free from: tree nuts, peanuts, sesame, fish and egg.
- 1 cup bean curd sticks dried (1 handful, 2 oz)
- ½ cup lily flower buds dried (0.5 ounce)
- ¼ cup lotus seeds dried (1.3 o5)
- 12 oysters dried (2 oz)
- 12 shitake mushrooms dried (2 ounces)
- 1 can baby corn 14 oz, rinse
- ½ cup red dates dried (2 ounces)
- 2 large carrots 3 small, diagonally sliced
- 6 oz deep fried tofu puffs
- 12 deep fried gluten balls 50 grams
- 12 ounces Napa cabbage 1 small or 1/2 medium head, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 4 bundles mung bean vermicelli dried
- 8 oz sugar snap peas or snow peas
- 3/4 cup black moss 1 ounce
- 1/2 cup rice wine for rinsing
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or other stir fry oil
- 1 inch ginger peeled and sliced
- 2 cups mushroom soaking water or broth or plain water
- 4 cups broth vegetable or chicken
- 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Wash, soak & preparation:
- Rinse and soak bean curd sticks, break them into 2-3 inch long pieces if necessary. When they are soft, drain and set aside.
- Rinse and soak dried lily flowers, swish and change water until there’s no more sand at the bottom of the bowl. Tie each flower into a knot and trim the base of the bud.
- Rinse and soak lotus seeds, when the lotus seed softens a bit, remove the red skin with a small paring knife. Rinse, drain, and set aside.
- Rinse and soak the dried oysters (allow at least 2 hours) until they’re softer, drain and set aside.
- Rinse and soak shitake mushrooms in room temperature water, place a small dish or bowl on top so that the mushrooms are completely submerged for about 2 hours. Swish the mushrooms, squeeze the excess water, trim the stem off (reserve for stock or discard), and set aside the shitake mushrooms. Reserve the soaking water, allow the water to settle (avoid using the stuff at the bottom).
- Rinse the baby corn and set aside.
- Soak the black moss in a medium sized bowl of cool water and examine the dry black moss and remove any human hair and debris. When it’s soft, drain in a fine sieve and slowly pour ½ cup of rice wine over it, drain and set aside.
- Soak mung bean vermicelli in a large bowl of room temperature water for 20 minutes. Grab a bundle and cut in half with scissors so that the strands are between 8-12 inches long. Drain and set aside until ready to use.
- Rinse and soak red dates for 10 minutes. Inspect each one, remove any attached stems, discard any dates that are bruised or blemished. Remove the pit by cutting a vertical line halfway thru to remove the seed, set aside.
Parboiling & cooking:
- Fill a 4 quart or larger pot ¾ full with water and bring to a boil. Parboil lotus seeds for 1 minute, remove with a sieve, and set aside. Repeat by parboiling bean sticks, red dates, baby corn, and carrot slices in separate batches for one minute each.
- Parboil the tofu puffs for one minute. Lastly parboil the gluten balls, use scissors to snip a small slit the gluten balls. When the tofu puffs and gluten balls cool to touch, give them gentle squeezes to drain any excess water.
- Preheat a large pot heavy bottom pot for a few minutes on medium-high heat, add oil and swirl to coat.
- Add ginger and stir fry for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add oysters and stir fry for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add mushrooms and stir fry for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add 1 cup of mushroom soaking water, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
- Stir the jai, add bean sticks, carrot slices, lily buds, lotus seeds, red dates, and 1 cup of mushroom soaking water, cover and lower the heat to cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Add baby corn, gluten balls, tofu puffs, and stir, add 4 cups of broth, add the napa cabbage on top, cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.
- Stir the jai, tuck the bundles of vermicelli noodles into the broth, add the black moss and snow peas on top, cover and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat
- Drizzle the oyster sauce and soy sauce over the top of the jai and gently stir to mix in the black moss and snow peas.
- Kortney (Zestfull Co-Founder) also made Sharon’s recipe to tap into her Chinese heritage. She had a hard time sourcing some of the ingredients (either not available or not safe for her allergies) but felt the dish complete with the alternatives she used.
- If you cannot find dried shitake, use another form of dried mushroom. The mushroom soaking water adds a flavour that is hard to replicate.
- Sharon’s recipe contains shellfish and soy; two of Kortney’s allergens. To make Jai top 14 free, Kortney used the following alternatives:
- Bamboo shoots instead of the bean curd sticks
- Button mushrooms instead of tofu and oysters
- Dried prunes instead of dates
- Rice vermicelli instead of mung bean noodles
- Bok choy as she could not find napa cabbage and is allergic to snap peas (added a nice green touch)
- Coconut aminos to add flavour at the end instead of soy sauce and oyster sauce
- Category: Main
- Cuisine: Chinese
Keywords: Chinese food, Jai, Stir Fry, Nut-free chinese food, Chinese Jai recipe
Check out Sharon’s New Book!
More Flavors of Culture recipes
Shahla is a mom of two girls who live with environmental allergies such as asthma and eczema. Their food allergies include tree nuts, peanuts, sesame and other seeds. Shahla is trained as a Natural Chef who wants to share the comfort that cooking has brought her family. She believes that everyone, regardless of dietary requirements, deserves a plate full of color and flavor.